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1 week ago

The LG G6 has turned me into a monster, and I'm OK with that

91

The LG G6 is a great phone that has had a terrible influence on me. Or maybe I'm just defective.

For the past week, I've been committing a huge sin, and I feel really terrible about myself. Every time I look at my phone, I wonder what has happened to me.

See, I've been using an LG G6 as my daily driver — tl;dr it's an amazing phone and you should probably buy one — and it's been a pretty good experience overall. But the phone is tall, and it's narrow, which is exactly what LG talks about when it claims its flagship to be one hand-friendly.

So I've enabled LG's on-screen navigation shortcut to quickly drop down the notification shade. While I hate how it looks, I think there's a practical reason most people should consider this, especially as tall, narrow phones with odd aspect ratios become more commonplace in the market.

A history of messing with notifications

Ever since the introduction of on-screen navigation buttons in 2011, Android manufacturers have found ways to pervert Google's original intentions. From changes to the designs (which were, during the Holo era, admittedly terrible across the board) to the addition of superfluous options, companies like LG and Huawei made it very easy to make that on-screen navigation era look terrible.

LG has offered the ability to augment the nav bar with notification shortcuts and quick access to its near-useless QSlide memo utility for a number of years, and it's always been possible to place them in any orientation one desires. If you want the notification shortcut on the left side, so be it on. On the right? You're an animal (or left-handed), but sure.

Enter G6

With the G6, LG made a phone that is usable in one hand but still too tall for the average thumb.

I've never really cared for changing the on-screen navigation buttons. Google has a reason the home button is in the middle, and the back button on the far left. Samsung has gone out of its way (and appears to be poised to continue doing so, at least by default) to do exactly the opposite of what Google intended, but at least it's been consistent in that particular area since the days of the first Galaxy devices in 2010.

But with the G6, something happened. LG released a phone that was usable in one hand, thanks to its narrow frame, but too tall to actually access the notification shade without some hand gymnastics. So in lieu of a "Mini Me" mode (which I don't miss), I decided to try my hand, or thumb, at using that much-maligned nav shortcut — on the left side, no less.

And by gosh, the damn thing worked. Not only does it reorient the regular navigation buttons slightly to the right, allowing me to more easily tap the back or home buttons without shifting my thumb, but the notification shortcut has proven considerably more useful than I initially gave it credit for. You don't realize how much time you spend merely swiping down to check notifications during the day until you take stock of your behavior. The upside is that I can easily open and close the notification shade without shifting my hand and interrupting what I am doing.

What about gestures?

I was scolded by my coworkers, and rightfully so, for polluting the sanctity of the navigation area, mainly because they believe I can accomplish the same thing using gestures. Specifically, many launchers, such as Action and Nova, allow for the setting of a home screen shortcut to quickly access notifications. And other apps purport to allow the same using overlays, so the notification shade can be accessed from any app, not just the home screen.

I tried all of these alternatives, and none have proven as usable, and as functional, as the Quad Blight.

The ugly truth

I'm getting older. I don't take the same care of myself as I used to. I prefer function to aesthetic. I don't care if I walk the dog in dog-eaten sneakers. I catch myself staring at clouds.

I'm also looking for ways to make the thing I use more than anything else a bit more functional, even at the expense of tradition, and symmetry. I can't promise that I'll continue using the LG G6 in this manner — my snob brain curdles at the thought — but for now, it's fine.

This is fine.

LG G6

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1 week ago

AT&T adds unlimited data option for prepaid GoPhone customers

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Get unlimited data for your AT&T GoPhone!

AT&T prepaid GoPhone customers who are sick and tired of having to manage their data usage have a new option. AT&T is now offering an unlimited data GoPhone plan for only $60 a month, after you sign up for AutoPay. This unlimited data is available even when you're travelling to Canada or Mexico, which is pretty great.

However, the unlimited does come with a caveat: data rates are limited to 3Mbps. That's more than enough speed to surf the web and connect with friends on all your favorite social media apps, but video streaming is limited to standard definition and capped at 1.5Mbps.

If you don't think you'll be able to get your full money's worth out of that unlimited data plan, AT&T is also offering a $40 GoPhone plan with 6GB of high-speed data.

The unlimited plan takes over GoPhone's previous $60 plan, which offered 8GB of high-speed data, after which the service was throttled to 128kbps. AT&T says that most customers will be very happy with the two new options, but it's unclear why the company isn't offering a slightly more expensive non-unlimited option with more high-speed LTE data, since 3Mbps isn't exactly speedy in this day and age.

If these plans feel like the right fit for you or your family, you can check out the available phones here, or look into bringing your own phone over to the plan.

More: Which unlimited plan should you buy? AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint

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1 week ago

IP Cameras vs. Nest, Arlo and integrated systems: Which security ecosystem should you invest in?

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Whether you want something simple or need a complicated whole-house system, there is a security camera that will work for you.

Home surveillance cameras are more popular than ever before. Whether you want cameras as part of a larger home security system, to use as a baby monitor or even to keep an eye on the pets while you're at work, there are plenty of options available at just about every price point.

But before you buy, you need to think about things like placement, power needs and, most importantly, what type of system to start with: a simple integrated system like a Nest Cam, or a standard IP camera. There are pros and cons to both types and a bit of time spent deciding which is best for you will save frustration and money.

Integrated camera systems

Camera packages from companies like Nest or Netgear's Arlo are available as a complete turnkey system in one box. You'll have everything you need to get a camera in place and monitoring the things you want to monitor without any headaches or difficult installation instructions.

Once installed, you'll have a system that can stream HD video with advanced features like motion detection triggers and zone fencing that works with your smartphone to do things like sending push notifications for motion alerts. The cameras use your home internet connection to stream video to the company's servers where you can monitor things in real time or download clips to save them for later. The companies making these consumer IP camera kits have thought of nearly everything, and it only takes a few minutes to get it all up and running. Additional features like the "Works with Nest" program can even integrate your cameras with things like smart lamps or switches for advanced automation.

What makes installation and setup of these types of cameras so easy are their proprietary nature. They are designed to work very well in limited ways, with little to no flexibility in how you set them up and use them.

Everything is easy because nothing is flexible.

After connecting a camera or a base station to your home network, they are attached to a user account through the company that manufacturers them. You'll notice during the setup process that all you need to do through an app on your phone or a PC is enter your network name and password while the cameras themselves do the rest. Your only options for viewing and storage are the ones approved by the manufacturer, and depending on your needs the hosting plans for camera storage can be pretty pricey. Workarounds from other companies who offer cloud-based camera FTP services exist, but can be complicated to set up and limit the features supported.

Camera systems from companies like Nest or Netgear are great for families who need something that can be easily set up and requires little to no maintenance. The initial high price of the equipment as well as long term expense for hosting services are mitigated by the ease of use and well thought out feature set.

See Arlo security camera systems at Amazon

See Nest security camera systems at Amazon

Standard IP cameras

Standard IP cameras are usually a very different experience than an all-in-one-box setup. Instead of a simple camera or cameras designed to work with a specific service from the manufacturer, a standard IP camera is just a camera. It transmits video, both wired and wireless options exist, and it's up to you how to capture and preserve the streams. A typical IP camera setup will have several inexpensive cameras connected to an NVR (Network Video Recorder) on a standalone storage device or a computer system.

These systems can be more complicated to setup than an integrated system. But part of the reason is the number of options you have for just about every piece of the system itself. IP cameras come in many different styles with different mounting options, can use PoE (Power over Ethernet) for a single-wire FHD installation and models with zoom lenses and true night vision are available for special needs cases. Countless hardware and installation options make a standard IP camera an excellent part of a larger automation system and "regular" IP address based stream access means you won't have any trouble seeing what the camera sees.

Standard IP cameras are prefect for anyone who loves to DIY.

The biggest difference between these cameras and an integrated camera kit is the video storage. A basic system like this one from Zmodo comes with four indoor/outdoor autofocus cameras (with IR cut filters for basic "night" vision), a stand-alone NVR storage device and the software to set everything up through a computer on your existing home network. The cost of this system is about the same as a two-camera system from Nest with no additional costs for cloud services or storage.

You also have the benefit of not having video from your cameras in the cloud. Popular use cases for security cameras include children's rooms, bedrooms and other places where privacy is paramount. With proper installation and setup, only you will be able to access your camera recordings, and they are stored on media in your home.

You can also build your own NVR storage devices, and capture and administrative software is available for everyone from the hobbyist to the enterprise. If you have particular needs or just want to set everything up yourself, a standard IP camera system is the way to go.

See IP cameras and systems at Amazon

Which is best?

One type of security camera system isn't inherently better than the other. The easy setup and use of products like a Nest Cam are worth the extra cost and storage service plans for many. Others will be more comfortable keeping their recordings local or have needs better served by a standard IP camera system. If you are using security cameras and have a particular brand you like or any feedback, feel free to talk about it in the comments!

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1 week ago

LeEco continues to expand beyond LeMall with new national retail partnerships

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You will soon be seeing more LeEco products at a retailer near you!

When LeEco landed in the U.S. last year, the Chinese technology company attempted to sell directly to American consumers by launching its LeMall e-commerce store, kicking things off with a with a flurry of flash sales to try and build a customer base quickly. It was... less than successful.

In 2017, LeEco began to pivot, selling its wares through more traditional retail outlets. First, it tapped Target to start selling the Le Pro3 and Le S3 on its website and then turned to Amazon to sell its phones and TVs.

Today, LeEco announced it's further expanding its national retail partnerships to make it easier for American consumers to buy its smartphones and TVs. In its latest blog post, LeEco has announced new retail partnerships with HSN, BrandsMart USA, Fry's, as well as expanding into more Best Buy locations over the next few months.

Only time will tell if these new retail outlets will help bolster LeEco's stateside sales. Both the LeEco Le Pro 3 and Le S3 are decent budget phones with pretty decent internal specs, so there definitely should be a market for them.

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1 week ago

Huawei P10 ranks near top of DxOMark camera tests, but can't beat the Pixel

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Picture this.

The Huawei P10 has a lot to love, especially with a Leica-powered dual camera array and a manageable one hand-friendly size. The setup may be close to last year's P9, but it's taken the Mate 9's excellent 20MP monochrome sensor to give it a big boost in the detail department, coming close to the Google Pixel's photo quality in DxOMark's tests.

What exactly does that mean?

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1 week ago

Wander down Nostalgia lane with a Gameboy Emulator on Gear VR!

Rocking out to your favorite Gameboy games in now easier than ever.

As games evolve and grow, one console replaces the next. This means that after a few years you may realize that you no longer have the system to properly run your favorite games, or even worse, that you still have the system but it's so old it can't even hook up to your television anymore. That's where emulators come in. They allow you to run the games that you love on your PC or laptop, using downloaded ROMS to load up the game you want to play.

Well, now emulators have gone a step further. That's because there is an emulator for Gear VR that will allow you to play original Gameboy games, and we've got all the details for you here!

Read more at VR Heads!

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1 week ago

LG Watch Sport vs. Samsung Gear S3: Which should you buy?

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LG Watch Sport vs. Samsung Gear S3

If you're looking for a smartwatch, chances are these two will be on your radar.

Samsung's Gear S3 Frontier has been around for a few months, but it's still fresh in everyone's mind as Samsung's top-end wearable offering. Coming in just a tad later, The big and fully featured LG Watch Sport was a launch device for Android Wear 2.0 and matches the Gear S3 in more ways than one.

Both of these smartwatches are big, feature-packed and relatively expensive. So which one should you consider strapping to your wrist? Let us help you decide.

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1 week ago

Come meet the BlackBerry KEYone (and CrackBerry Kevin) in NYC and Miami this month!

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If you're in Miami or New York this month, come meet CrackBerry Kevin and get a first look at the BlackBerry KEYone!

If you want to buy a BlackBerry KEYone, you'll be waiting until at least early April, but if you live in either New York City or Miami you can try one way before that!

After awesome turnouts in Barcelona during Mobile World Congress, and Toronto a week later, CrackBerry Kevin is holding a couple of fun little events that we're happy to tell you about. These are very informal get-togethers where BlackBerry fans, new and old, can chat about BlackBerry Mobile's upcoming hero phone, the KEYone.

CrackBerry Kevin celebrating 10 years of CrackBerry during MWC 2017!

I got a chance to try this phone in Barcelona and came away really impressed. This is a BlackBerry through and through, but with some modern niceties peppered throughout. It's just a BlackBerry Classic on a lot of caffeine. From the fingerprint sensor embedded in the hardware keyboard to the Pixel-quality camera and big, beautiful 4.5-inch screen, this is a phone to get excited about.

The two get-togethers are a few days apart. The Miami meet-up is scheduled for Friday, March 17, and the New York event is scheduled for Wednesday, March 22nd, so make your plans soon! We'll see you there!

RSVP: MIAMI - Friday, March 17th

RSVP: NEW YORK CITY - Wednesday, March 22nd

BlackBerry KEYone

BlackBerry Mobile

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1 week ago

LG G6 vs. LG V20: Is the flagship's camera worth the extra cash?

49

How does the LG G6's camera compare against its sibling, the V20? That's what we're going to find out.

The dual camera setup featured on the LG G6 isn't new. This particular configuration was first introduced in LG's V10, which was released under the guise of being the content creator's ultimate camera smartphone. It's a great phone, though not necessarily aimed at the mainstream, with camera modes to appease the casual photography all the way to the serious videographer. But which one is worth buying?

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1 week ago

Samsung Pay might come to Galaxy J phones in India

0

Samsung is looking to boost adoption of Samsung Pay by making it available on Galaxy J handsets.

Samsung Pay made its debut in India earlier this week, with the service becoming available for early access in the country. The digital payments service is limited to Samsung's premium devices, including the Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy A7 (2016), and the Galaxy A5 (2016), and it now looks like Samsung may expand availability to its Galaxy J phones.

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1 week ago

Google's unique update process is one of the best parts of owning a Pixel

42

Google's phones are updated the same way phones from other companies are, with one big difference.

There is an extremely well-defined divide between phones from Google and phones from any other company when it comes to updates. While a few exceptions exist, you know that you can only expect a timely Android update if you're using a phone recently sold by Google. In short, unless your phone says Nexus or Pixel on the back of it, getting updates can be as random and unpredictable as rolling dice.

Whenever we start talking about the update situation, someone will mention that Google can do it faster because it isn't going through the carriers and the companies that make the phone hardware. There is a lot more at play here, but a look at how a Google Android update is born and delivered should make for a fun conversation!

Two misconceptions

Let's start by addressing two things most of us get wrong: 1) The number of devices sold makes a big difference. 2) Carriers and manufacturers aren't in the picture.

Building a software update for one phone is the same as building a software update for one million phones. There are differences in the deployment because more people are downloading it and more errors can happen, but changing the code and testing how everything works is completely independent of how many phones that will use it are in the wild.

Android on a Nexus 5X is the same as Android on a Nexus 6P or Pixel.

Android is not developed in a bubble and it isn't tested in one, either. A manufacturer is still involved in an update for a Pixel or Nexus phone. Someone works with the vendors that make the individual components and get everything working as expected and sort out the licensing, and then it's tested with input from a lot of other companies, like big software vendors and carriers. Verizon (for example) places a pretty high value on its network and would blacklist a particular phone quickly if it caused trouble. Google gets Verizon to have a look before that can happen even though the phone in question may not be branded specifically for Verizon.

What we really mean here is that Google is the only company writing the software for an Android update on a Nexus or Pixel phone. This isn't technically correct either, but it gets the message across. This is Android the way Google made it with no major changes.

The deployment

Google is pretty good at this internet stuff. It has built a FOTA update (Firmware Over The Air) system into Android that's simple and robust. An application in the system software pings a server, and if the response indicates that an update is available a special download manager service starts and grabs the file. The files are hosted by Google for almost every Android phone.

Your phone is assigned an update slot based on your unique device ID and a bit of random number generation. By not making the update files available to everyone at the same time, download servers aren't crushed by demand and if a critical error is uncovered the rollout can be stopped.

An update is deployed for almost every other phone this same way.

How an update is developed

This is the important part.

All updates, even Nexus or Pixel updates, have manufacturer and carrier involvement. They all get rolled out the same basic way through Google Android update servers. How the updated code is delivered by the people writing it to the people in charge of building software is where Google has a distinct advantage.

When an update is "finished" by Google it's still not finished for Samsung.

The people involved in building Android for a Nexus or Pixel phone basically use the Android code the way it is written. Building Android from the source code isn't difficult at all. A few commands given to a computer that's been properly set up to compile Android is all that's needed to build all the parts into software that can be copied to a phone. The "hard" work is done by the folks writing and changing the code itself.

Phones sold by Samsung or LG or any other company aren't using the code the way it is written. That means they can't just download the updated parts and build their software like Google can. This is especially apparent for those monthly Android security patches, which need to be adapted to work with the custom operating system companies build using Android as the base.

The way Google handles the source code and builds updated software for their own phones isn't drastically different from the way anyone else does it. Developers make changes and add features to the Android source. Google Hardware takes that code and works with the companies that make the parts inside the phones to get it running well on each model, then makes it available to the public through the beta program.

The step Google Hardware doesn't have to do — work these base layer changes into the code for a custom operating system — is what gives a Nexus or Pixel phone an edge when it comes to waiting for an update.

This is unavoidable when you have different companies building different software from the same base code. The goal is a rich ecosystem built from different companies that offer very different experiences while still being compatible with Android at the feature and app level. We wouldn't want it any other way.

Android Nougat

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